One of my new year’s resolutions for 2009 was sparked by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. A lot of people are talking about this book (as they were when Blink and Tipping Point came out) because he loves to research subjects that we hold true and flip those ideas on their heads.
In Outliers, he’s examining what it really takes to be successful in any chosen field. There’s a ton of research that’s gone into the book, so I won’t try to sum it all up in a short blog post, but the most inspiring part for me was the discovery that “naturals” don’t really exist. The art world in particular loves to promote the idea that some people are born naturals, graced with god given artistic talent, but we love child phenom stories in every field. And for some reason, we tend to tone down how many hours of practice and devotion those children put in, week after week, year after year.
The researchers quoted in this book noticed that excellence at any complex task requires “a critical, minimum level of practice.” Though most of our elite performers in any field started very young, the number of hours they spent honing their craft seems to be about the same – 10,000.
“In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals,” writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin, “this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or 20 hours a week, of practice over 10 years… No one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”
10,000 hours sounds like a lot, but when broken down to 3 hours a day over 10 years, well that feels a little more doable, doesn’t it?
- Paint a minimum of 3 hours a day, every single day.
- Paint a daily painting. To jumpstart my 3 hours and flex my painting muscles, I want to start creating small paintings each day. Some days I’ll be working on larger pieces or will need to spend more time sketching and planning, but I really like the idea of creating tiny, quick paintings that are start to finish less than 3 hours. It’s a good way to try out new styles, to practice painting still life and to just plain old PLAY. No attachment to the outcome because it’s small. Because I’ll do something else tomorrow. Because it’s fun!
- Pay the bills with my artwork. This goal is a lot trickier since there’s no clear steps for success. I know I need to get more traffic to my site, to show my work in person, to get my name out there in general, but again, um….how do I do that? I’m going to try selling on some other sites, like ArtFire and eBay. I’ve signed up for a show in NYC in March and a couple of craft fairs already. And hopefully doing things like the daily paintings will help draw some attention my way.
2008 was an amazing year for me and despite the constant media freak-outs about the recession, I feel like 2009 is going to be the best year yet. When times are tough, we tend to pull together as people. We look around and start to remember what’s important to us. Though I suspect there may be less spending on ringtones and jewelery for dogs, I think people will be even more likely to buy handmade items, crafted right here by local artisans, rather than the mass-produced junk rolling out of some polluted Chinese factory. It’s all happening.